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Thu 15 Dec: Guardian HE Network – First or Fail – Universities helping the economy and insular British graduates: first or fail? December 15, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Uncategorized.
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Universities helping the economy and insular British graduates: first or fail?

Two reports – the first highlights British universities’ economic worth, the second warns about the lack of internationalism

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/dec/15/universities-economy-british-graduates-fail

speedometer

Universities are driving economic growth says a report by Universities UK/ Photograph: Keith Leighton / Alamy/Alamy

Heading for a first … universities driving economic growth

With news this week that unemployment has increased yet again, and the eurozone crisis cutting the prospects for growth any time soon, a recent publication from Universities UK, Driving Economic Growth, sets out a series of compelling evidence on how UK universities play a critical role in driving the UK economy.

At a time of record teaching budget cuts, it reminds us of quite how big a gamble it was 12 months ago for the coalition to pass its higher education funding reforms, by what is still the closest vote margin it has faced to date.

The UUK report makes a forceful case for our universities, one which we can only hope the government will sit up and take notice of. Particularly striking is a map of the UK that shows the clear correlation between the number of people in a region with high level skills and the economic prosperity of that same region.

It also shows that whie the UK has indeed seen a sizeable growth in students over the last decade, we still lag behind the US, Canada and Norway in the percentage of people with a degree, coming 10th out of the OECD countries.

If the recent reforms to higher education do indeed lead to less people going to university, it won’t just be our universities that are worse off, but it will be our economy and society as a whole that lose out too.

Heading for a fail … British graduates’ international perspective

This week a report from the British Council and Think Global, Next Generation UK, painted a fairly bleak picture of the value that British graduates place on an international outlook and the benefit this could have on their work prospects. Business leaders in the UK feel that British business will fall behind unless young people are encouraged to think more globally.

Sadly, the timing of David Cameron’s European snub couldn’t have come at a worse time given the findings of this report.

There are worrying signs that the anti-EU and anti-immigration rhetoric coming from government could well have a damaging impact on education in this country. It is well documented that international students are significant net contributors to the British economy, so the short-sightedness of Theresa May and David Cameron in scaring them off is counter productive.

If we are to seriously realise the ambitions of the Next Generation UK report, it will require a more open-minded approach to wanting to study abroad from British students and further integration of international students here in the UK.

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Thu 8 Dec: First or Fail – Futuretrack and UCL’s Malcolm Grant: first or fail? December 15, 2011

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Futuretrack and UCL’s Malcolm Grant: first or fail?

A first for the timing of the latest graduate destinations survey, but a fail for the president and provost – although does he deserve one?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/dec/08/futuretrack-ucl-malcolm-grant

Malcolm Grant

Members of UCL’s staff and student unions voted for a motion of no confidence in UCL’s Malcolm Grant – but, Aaron Porter asks, does he deserve it? Photograph: Dan Chung/The Guardian

Heading for a first … tracking the destinations of graduates from 2009

At a time when there is so much focus on identifying the benefits of higher education, and increasingly the destinations of graduates, it’s timely that the latest Futuretrack survey has been launched, this time tracking students who applied through Ucas in 2005/06 and therefore likely to have graduated in 2009 (or 2010 if they were on a four-year programme).

The Futuretrack survey is probably the most comprehensive cradle-to-grave (or rather from application to post-graduation) study looking at cohorts of students through their journey in higher education. At a time when there are increasing questions about what is actually happening to students after they graduate, how many are getting jobs, at what level, how many are going on to further study, the findings will be of real interest to the sector.

The survey itself is independently conducted by a research team at Warwick University on behalf of the Higher Education Careers Service Unit (HECSU), but the results will be of interest to prospective students, parents, institutions and government.

Heading for a fail … Malcolm Grant

This week an extraordinary members meeting of UCL Union, the student union at UCL, passed a motion of no confidence in Malcolm Grant as president and provost of University College London.

A motion entitled “Hands off the NHS, hands off our education: Malcolm Grant has got to go”, set out its objection to Grant accepting the role as chair of the NHS commissioning board, which he will undertake part-time alongside his role as provost and president. The objections were that he has been complicit in the coalition’s NHS reforms, lobbied for the cap on tuition fees to be increased and claimed that a living wage at UCL was a “luxury that could not be afforded”.

The motion did not hold back in its criticism of Grant, was one-sided, and had the fingerprints of the Socialist Workers’ Party all over it. It failed to to mention that: Grant has brought unprecedented success to UCL and bolstered its international standing and reputation; a living wage is indeed being introduced subsequent to his comments; he’d agreed to take a 10% paycut and he publicly criticised Lansley’s reforms as “unintelligible, very messy and not clear”. And although the motion mentions that Grant is the most highly paid university leader in the UK, it failed to say that he intends to donate his salary from the part-time role as chair of the NHS commissioning board to UCL.

While the NHS reforms continue to be deeply unpopular, if Andrew Lansley is going to appoint someone to chair the commissioning board, I feel confident in Malcolm Grant to at least deliver results with objectivity and impartiality. Although a lawyer by background rather than an administrator, Grant is a man who delivers results and has an impressive track record at UCL.

Due to capacity issues in the room, more than 250 students were allowed to vote. Of those present, a healthy 160 backed the motion of no confidence with 86 against and 28 abstaining. But with a total student population of well over 20,000 at UCL it’s hard to say with any confidence whether this reflects the views of the student body as a whole, or just a vocal minority. That question should soon be answered as there is about to be a referendum on the issue, giving all UCL students the chance to have their say.

Whether the motion is backed or overturned by the UCL student body, it will undoubtedly generate a significant debate. But for critics of Grant and his decision to accept the role, I would say that if anyone is going to knock some sense into the NHS reforms, I’d be prepared to say that he is one of the few people I can imagine doing it.

Thur 24 Nov – Guardian HE Network – First or Fail – Lord Browne and UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi: first or fail? November 28, 2011

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Lord Browne and UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi: first or fail?

Lord Browne redeems himself with a new prize for engineering, but the chancellor at University of California, Davis comes under fire

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/nov/24/lord-browne-davis-first-fail

Linda Katehi

A petition is calling for the resignation of Linda Katehi, chancellor, University of California, Davis. Photograph: Paul Sakuma/AP

Heading for a first: Lord Browne

Almost exactly one year after his much contested review into higher education was published, Lord Browne of Madingley returned into the spotlight this week as the chair of trustees for the foundation overseeing the new Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. Unlike his funding review, this announcement was greeted with fanfare and the even rarer sight of cross-party support as David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband all got behind the new initiative.

Since the industrial revolution, the UK has arguably the richest history of any country when it comes to engineering, and while the United States, China and India have probably soared past us in recent years, the establishing of a new £1m prize here in the UK to reward the very best global engineering feats has undoubtedly set engineering hearts racing in this country, and further afield too.

Remarkably this is the first prize that the queen has put her name to, and given the interest it has sparked in the global engineering community it is already being talked about as a rival to the Nobel prize. If ways can be found to start exciting the imagination of the pupils in our schools too, as well as the engineers in our universities and in industry, then its contribution will be worth several times more than the £1m prize fund that will be awarded to the winners every two years.

Heading for a fail: University of California Davis

This week UC Davis was plunged into disarray as its chancellor Linda Katehi allowed riot police to disperse a rather modest gathering of students occupying a part of the campus. In the wake of Occupy Wall Street, emulated this side of the pond with a similar gathering outside St Paul’s cathedral in London, a number of tented protests have sprung up on university campuses in the US. Although US authorities tend to be rather less tolerant of occupations, few expected the show of force that was thrust on protesters at Davis.

After getting the green light from Katehi, riot police wasted no time in trying to clear the small gathering of students. As students chose to hold their ground, what happened next was truly dreadful. Within minutes police moved from persuasion to forceful removal, but most shocking of all was the repeated use of pepper spray directly in the faces and mouths of non-resisting students. The whole farce was caught on film and has spread like wildfire on the internet.

Faced with the video evidence, Davis has been forced into acting decisively. The chief of campus police, Annette Spicuzza has been suspended while an investigation attempts to get to the bottom of exactly what happened and who it was authorised by. But as it was Katehi herself who sanctioned the police actions, and although she instructed them to do so peacefully, thousands of people have signed a petition calling for her resignation – no doubt fuelled with the anger of seeing students unceremoniously subjected to pepper spray.

Whatever your opinions on occupation as a tactic, there can surely be no justification for the use of such outrageous police actions to disperse a group of students who are peacefully trying to make a point – whether you agree with them or not.

Thu 10 Nov: Guardian HE Network – Birmingham revives Aimhigher and core and margin pricing: first or fail? November 10, 2011

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Birmingham revives Aimhigher and core and margin pricing: first or fail?

At a time when universities are being coerced by the coalition toward competition, it’s great to see that the spirit of collaboration lives on in Birmingham, says Aaron Porter

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/nov/10/birmingham-aimhigher-core-margin-pricing

Bullring Birmingham

Selfridges at the Bullring, Birmingham city centre: universities in the second city have come together to continue the AimHigher widening participation programme. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Heading for a First … Birmingham Aimhigher

Definitely worthy of a first is news that AimHigher has been reborn in Birmingham as a joint venture between Aston, Birmingham City, University College Birmingham and the University of Birmingham. To date, one of the most counter-productive coalition cuts has been to the AimHigher programme, a dedicated activity with schools to encourage young people to consider higher education. At a time of trebled fees, difficult graduate employment and the removal of the education maintenance allowance, there couldn’t be a more important time to salvage such activity, particularly as we learnt just last week that the initial figures for 2012 university applications give cause for concern.

When AimHigher funding was withdrawn, it was such a blow. But news from the second city that the universities had come together to salvage the activity is a rare piece of good news. It’s also worth noting that a number of other cities have also managed to bring their higher education institutions together to set up similar arrangements, such as AccessHE in London. At the last count, this brings together 20 institutions. But in truth, aside from a handful of cities, it appears that many institutions have not been able to retain a collaborative AimHigher-style programme. And it’s great to see that in Birmingham the four universities have managed to retain the AimHigher brand.

At a time when universities are being coerced by the coalition toward competition, it’s great to see that the spirit of collaboration can still live on. And when it comes to widening access and promoting participation, there can be more no greater issue worthy of institutions coming together.

Heading for a Fail … Core and margin

News this week that 27 higher education inistiutions have applied to lower their prices is hardly surprising given the dogs dinner the government has made of setting out their higher education strategy. While at first glance it may seem like good news for prospective students, on further analysis it raises some more concerning questions.

As a consequence of the government getting its higher education sums badly wrong, the core and margin model has been introduced in a desperate attempt to force some universities to lower their prices. But, depressingly for me, the courses or institutions lowering their prices are doing so not necessarily because what they are providing isn’t up to scratch, but rather because their perceived reputation may not be high. Worse still, these are decisions not based on what it actually costs to teach a particular course, but manipulated to suit the Treasury finances.

Then consider the socio-economic backgrounds of the students likely to be forced into courses on £7,500 or less, and the backgrounds of students still likely to proceed on to degrees at £9,000 per year. The idea that students from richer backgrounds will have more spent on them, while those from more deprived backgrounds are slung into economy class stands against what higher education has, up until now, played such an important role in countering.

Rather than improving social mobility, there is a real danger that government miscalculations and an ideological bent on the market through mechanisms like core and margin will see a widening of disadvantage, rather than a closing of the gap.

Thur 27 Oct – Guardian HE Network – First or Fail Which? and university application figures October 30, 2011

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Which? university guide and UCAS application figures: first or fail?

Which? magazine is to publish a guide to British universities but will it get a first or a fail?

Ucas logo

The universities admission service, Ucas, has seen a 12% drop in applicants from the UK compared to this time last year. Photograph: M4OS Photos/Alamy

Heading for a First… Which?

At the start of this week the Observer reported that well-respected consumer rights magazine Which? will now publish a guide to British universities. Not that much more evidence was required, it was further proof that our university system is moving toward a more market based system. And in the same way Which? has helped generations of consumers purchase the right car or kitchen appliance, universities are now next in the queue for the Which? treatment.

At the surface, the prospect of an independent, well researched assessment of what is provided in our universities should be welcome, particularly by prospective students and their parents, there are some considerations that need to be thought through. When deciding to assess a car or a washing machine, there are some pretty indisputable factors where transparent information is helpful. Whether that’s reliability, price, dimensions or terms and conditions. But judging an education isn’t quite so easy. It’s not just difficult to decide which measures are the most important. Is academic progress more important than final degree outcomes? How important is the research environment for an undergraduate? How do you account for the distinctiveness of a small and specialist institution that may not benefit from the economies of scale, but more than compensate with a stronger sense of community. Talking of which, how do you begin to measure ‘a sense of community’?

As I see it, for Which? to simply move beyond a compilation of the greatest hits from the plethora of league tables that already exist, their real challenge will be to try and capture the essence of different institutions, their mission, strengths and weaknesses. Simple metrics don’t do justice to the broader importance and value of a higher education experience, so here’s hoping for something more sophisticated than that.

Heading for a Fail… University applications

It always looked likely given the confusion and anger with the government’s reforms to higher education funding, but this week we got the first signs of evidence that for the first year of higher tuition fees in 2012, university applications were indeed headed for decline.

Figures from the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) showed that the applications received by 15 October were 9% lower than this time last year. It’s important to note that the final deadline for applications is not until the middle of January 2012, so this is far from a definitive picture, but the early signs don’t look good.

Personally I don’t consider a small decline in applications overall to be a huge problem, there will still be more people applying for a place than there are places to go round. In fact even a 9% decline will mean that thousands of qualified applicants would still miss out on a university place. The analysis that is crucial is to determine which groups of students are applying in greater (or fewer) numbers than before. A fall in applications which hits 10% or more is politically damaging for the coalition. But if the decline is particularly concentrated amongst poorer applicants or certain ethnic groups, then it will be more damning.

At first glance, a 9% drop is fairly troubling though. But there are two important factors to bear in mind. The first is an issue of demographics, the numbers of 18 year olds eligible to apply in 2012 is actually fewer than 2011, as a consequence of a slowing of the birth rate in the early 1990s. This may account for as much as 5% of the fall. But countering that, a small amount of analysis of the early UCAS figures show that applications to Oxbridge, dentistry, medicine and veterinary science (which have an early deadline) fell by only 0.8%. This would therefore indicate that the fall everywhere else is actually closer to 20%, but it could also mean that applicants are actually taking more time to consider their options, but will still ultimately decide to apply.

Whilst it is important to monitor these figures closely, it’s also important not to lose sight of two crucial issues. Despite the rising cost to the individual the broader benefits of higher education need to continue to be articulated, probably louder than ever before. And when it comes to the financial information, government through initiatives like the Independent Student Finance Task Force which has organised a National Student Money Day on Monday 14th November, need to maintain a visible presence to ensure that prospective students understand the deal, whether they agree with it or not.

Thu 20 Oct – Guardian HE Network – Cambridge University chancellorship and Reading University: first or fail? October 20, 2011

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Cambridge University chancellorship and Reading University: first or fail?

New leadership comes under the spotlight this week as Aaron Porter gives his verdict on Reading’s new vice chancellor and the Cambridge University chancellorship candidates

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/oct/20/cambridge-university-chancellor-contest

Brian Blessed

Ahead of Brian Blessed and Abdul Arain, Lord Sainsbury was voted Cambridge University’s new chancellor. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Heading for a First… Reading University and Sir David Bell

This week Reading University announced the appointment of senior civil servant Sir David Bell as its new vice-chancellor. Bell’s career is almost the definition of ‘meteoric rise’. He started as a teacher in Glasgow, went on to become a headteacher, before rising to national prominence as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools and then into the civil service as the permanent secretary in the Department for Education.

Born in Glasgow, reading history and philosophy at his home city’s university, he then went onto obtain a PGCE at Jordanhill College of Education. His direct experience at schools in Glasgow and Essex and as assistant director of Education at Newcastle City Council clearly gives him in a genuine education background. Not to mention his subsequent experience as the chief inspector of schools and then in government.

As universities are increasingly grappling with the implications of the White Paper, and their link up with business, it’s vital that their core purpose as educational establishments is not lost. For those who have met him, Sir David is an impressive individual, with an obvious passion for what education can do to transform an individual’s life.

He strikes me as a man who can breathe new life into Reading University, ensure it is fit for purpose in the 21st century, but without losing sight of why the institution exists. I also can’t help but think, he’s chosen a very wise time to stop working for Michael Gove…

Heading for a Fail… Abdul Arain

Notable previous chancellors of Cambridge University have included Thomas Cromwell, Prince Albert, and Stanley Baldwin, and since 1976 the honour has been bestowed upon the Duke of Edinburgh. Of course while the role is largely ceremonial, cutting ribbons and shaking hands at degree congregations, there is a perception at least that this person is a figure head for the institution. And in some respects, a role model for prospective and current students.

So when an election was called to replace Prince Philip earlier this year, there was a faint hope that the result may deliver something other the usual line up of noble lords, dukes, or relatives of the monarch who generally hold the post. Who knows, perhaps the first woman may have been chosen to break the monotony of man after man since 1246. But given some of the rather ancient rules at Cambridge University, I’ve no idea whether a woman is even allowed to hold the role. Even if they are permitted, 800 years of history suggests the culture won’t permit it yet.

However the line up of candidates, although all men, was at least drawn from a variety of backgrounds. It was made pretty clear, that the preferred choice from the university hierarchy was Lord Sainsbury, the former chair of the supermarket giant and a significant donor to the institution. Up against him were the loud-mouthed actor Brian Blessed, high profile QC Michael Mansfield, and Nariobi-born grocer Abdul Arain. Running a classic protest vote campaign, Arain’s candidacy was two-fold; to show that Cambridge University really is open to people from non-traditional backgrounds, and perhaps more pertinently to him, to highlight the damage a new chain of Sainsburys in the city will do to local stores like his own.

Sadly Arain came last when the results were announced, but he secured a creditable 312 in the final tally. Despite some ill-feeling from a minority toward Lord Sainsbury, in truth he sailed through securing nearly 3000 of the 5888 votes that were cast. By weighing in with more than 50% of the vote in the first round, it didn’t even matter whether it was first past the post, or a more elaborate transferable voting system.

So Cambridge University may not have taken the chance to break with tradition of choosing someone outside the established hierarchy or heaven forbid a woman. But Arain’s candidacy did at least raise a valid debate, if only temporarily.

Guardian HE Network, Thu 13 Oct: First or Fail – Chuka Umunna & University of Wales October 16, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Tuition Fees.
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Chuka Umunna and the University of Wales: first or fail?

A fresh face on the Labour front bench makes a good impression – but it’s more bad news in Wales, says Aaron Porter

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/oct/13/chuka-umunna-university-of-wales

Chuka Umunna

Chuka Umunna, who has replaced John Denham as the shadow secretary of state for business, innovation and skills, has enjoyed a meteoric rise, says Aaron Porter. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

Heading for a First… Chuka Umunna

Almost as soon as conference season was over, Ed Miliband wasted no time in shuffling his pack, bringing some fresh faces to the Labour front bench. Perhaps the most meteoric rise was granted to the impressive Chuka Umunna, part of the 2010 intake and MP for Streatham, who replaced John Denham as the shadow secretary of state for business, innovation and skills. Given that jobs and economic growth are going to be vital between now and the next general election, this is a sizeable job to give to a relative novice. But Umunna has received notable plaudits both inside and out of the Labour party since his selection as the candidate to fight for Streatham in March 2008, and should provide added energy and vigour as Labour look to step up the competition with the coalition government.

While most of the political interest in his department will inevitably concentrate on economic growth and job creation, the role of higher education, also in his department, should not be overlooked. The OECD evidence is compelling; where there is state investment in a strong higher education system this more than pays itself back through growth, innovation and job creation. Given the absence of any obvious growth strategy from the coalition, Umunna would do well to look to the universities section of his shadow department when preparing to take the case to Cable, Osborne et al.

In the more medium term, he will also need to consider the broader position Labour will take on higher education funding before the next general election. The stopgap announcement just before party conference, for a fee level of £6,000, was met with a mixed reaction. Some party members, and the National Union of Students, are still holding out for a graduate tax – but the results of the Liam Byrne’s policyreview will be instrumental in determining whether the party will stick with the policy Ed Miliband pushed so hard on in his leadership campaign or not.

The job of helping to rebuild Labour’s reputation on the economy, and further exposing the government’s increasingly desperate recovery plan, is a considerable challengeand responsibility. My gut reaction is that Umunna has the essential ingredients to make a real success of it.

Heading for a Fail… University of Wales

No, it’s not just a repeat of last week, but sadly in the past seven days things appear to have become even more desperate for the University of the Wales. After the public concerns about their external degrees outside of Wales were aired just over a week ago, the past few days have seen yet more bad news.

Now, a European-funded scholarship programme, the Prince of Wales Innovation Scheme (Powis) has been withdrawn. According to the Welsh Assembly Enterprise Minister, Edwina Hart AM, a review into the programme found that it was not in fact eligible for EU funding. Although the overall budget for the programme was due to be £11m, with £5m coming from the European funding and the rest from universities and business, up to this point only £0.4m of the EU funding had been put in.

In separate news, it was also reported that the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC) was to change its name to distance itself from the University of Wales. The new name will be Cardiff Metropolitan University, and it will utilise its own awarding powers, rather than awarding degrees from the University of Wales.

So another tough seven days for the University of Wales. I sincerely hope I can write about something else next week.

Wed 5 Oct: Guardian HE Network – First or Fail: UK Science & University of Wales October 6, 2011

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Aaron Porter’s first or fail: UK science and the University of Wales

This week, Aaron Porter examines the announcement of additional investment in UK science and the University of Wales’ decision to stop validating degrees from other institutions

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/2011/oct/05/uk-science-university-wales

Nobel winners Andre Geim and Dr Konstantin Novoselov

£50m is to be invested in a ‘graphene hub’ at the University of Manchester, which builds on the work of Nobel prize-winners Andre Geim (left) and Dr Konstantin Novoselov. Photograph: Jon Super/AP

Heading for a first … UK science

Aside from a new round of bin collections, the Conservative party conference was light on policy announcements this week, and even lighter on ideas to stimulate economic growth. However, in amongst the doom and gloom, and George Osborne’s desperate attempts to convince us “we’re (still) all in this together”, there was one significant piece of good news, as the chancellor announced £200m of additional investment in UK science.

Of that money, £50m has been designated for a “graphene hub”, which builds on the Nobel prize-winning work of academics from the University of Manchester who secured the physics prize in 2010. The higher education community in the UK has long argued that it has the capacity and potential to deliver the research and innovation to ensure the UK can remain internationally competitive.

Successive governments have recognised that our best chance of remaining competitive lies in high-level skills and research, rather than a desperate race to the bottom, but it needs to be backed up with funding. And so this announcement, although not Earth-shattering in size, is a welcome start because of the message it sends to the science community that there is a recognition that it can still play a significant role in boosting the UK economy in the long term.

But although welcome, a one-off announcement is hardly a coherent strategy, nor will it be enough to sustain the UK research and science base in an increasingly competitive environment. So as question marks about the coalition’s economic growth strategy, or perhaps more pertinently lack of one, continue to become more and more important, our research community would be well served to strengthen its case for investment and the resultant contribution it can make to kick start our faltering economy.

Heading for a fail … University of Wales/HE in Wales

It was only a few weeks ago that concerns became public about the nature and quality of the University of Wales’ partnership arrangements with other institutions, both in Wales and further afield. The press were critical, the education minister in Wales gave them a public dressing down, and the QAA appeared to be marshalling their evidence to report back a pretty dismal account of what was going on.

So as the storm clouds started to circle around the University of Wales, it seemed obvious that a drastic response would be required, but few predicted what would happen next. This week, the University of Wales announced that it would sever ties as an accrediting body for other universities in Wales. Although they recognised they have a “duty of care” to existing students on programmes, it is clearly a less than satisfactory denouement for students who will probably be left wondering who will accredit their degrees, and if they are accredited what value they will have anyway.

In a more disturbing twist it came to light that the institutions with which the University of Wales had, up until now been validating programmes, were not warned about the decision from the University of Wales. So while recognition should be given to the university for all but conceding there is legitimacy to the accusations that have been levelled at the quality of their external degrees, it now opens up a series of important questions about the status of the students currently enrolled on their programmes. This concerns their future relationship with institutions in Wales and further afield and given the direction of recent developments, ultimately whether the university itself has any future.

Thu 29 Sep: Guardian HE Network – First or Fail: Labour’s tuition fee policy September 29, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Tuition Fees.
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Labour’s tuition fees policy: first or fail?

Does the party’s announcement that it will remove price variability and back a £6,000 fixed fee deserve a first or a fail?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/2011/sep/29/labour-tuition-fees-policy

Labour leader Ed Miliband

Labour leader Ed Miliband delivering his spech to the party’s annaul conference at the Echo Arena in Liverpool. Photograph: CHRISTOPHER THOMOND/for the Guardian.

This week Labour’s announcement to back tuition fees at £6,000 has dominated the higher education agenda. But it’s drawn both praise and criticism, and so I’ve taken the decision to award it both a first and a fail, and look at its strength and weaknesses.

Heading for a first … Labour’s tuition fee policy

The removal of price variability, greater stability for university finances, the scrapping of the potentially destabilising core and margin model, and a significant reduction in student debt on graduation. Major steps forward that most accept would mute the market excesses of the coalition’s higher education reforms.

In announcing an interim position, which Labour has put forward as an alternative which could and in their eyes should be implemented immediately by the coalition, it proves that higher education continues to retain a high profile on the political agenda. It also appears to have resonated well with lots of prospective students and their parents who recognise that Labour has tried to reconcile the tension between ensuring universities remain to be sufficiently well funded, while continuing to bring in a student contribution.

Many universities too have welcomed the announcement, particularly those concerned about how the ill-thought out core and margin model will work. This appears to threaten to solidify social inequality by further concentrating students from selective schools into universities who will be spending more money on their students, while the rest will be forced into a bargain basement race to the bottom as universities are forced to charge fees lower than £7,500, implemented as a result of Treasury miscalculations on what the average fee would be.

Heading for a fail … Labour’s tuition fee policy

But for all the praise that Labour’s announcement brought, there was a fair amount of dismay and dissatisfaction too. Chief among the concerns came from supporters of a graduate tax, feeling that the £6,000 announcement was an attempt to backtrack from Ed Miliband’s support for the alternative to tuition fees which had been central to his leadership campaign.

While most accept that the transfer to a graduate tax isn’t feasible overnight, crucial technical issues like ensuring that hypothecation will work and clarity on the funding method for universities to still receive upfront money would need to be resolved, it was the lack of clarity over whether the announcement was simply a suggestion for what the coalition could do now, or whether it might indeed find its way into the 2015 Labour manifesto that caused concern.

For others, the decision to back £6,000 appeared to concede that tuition fees are here to stay. There are still a sizeable number of critics of the tuition fees system no matter what form it takes, and with any cap it might have. For them, putting forward a policy that is far from ideal with its only redeeming feature being that it’s not quite as bad as what the coalition has put forward doesn’t cut the mustard, even as a short term fix.

But whatever your position on tuition fees or a graduate tax, the debate has certainly been reignited. As the Labour party conference comes to a close, it now appears clearer that the £6,000 suggestion is simply a short-term position to demonstrate the coalition could do something different right now. As for what might appear in the 2015 manifesto, I suspect we’ll have to wait until the policy review is finally published.

Thu 22 Sep: Guardian HE Network – First or Fail: University Alliance and post-qualification applications September 22, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Tuition Fees.
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First or fail: University Alliance and post-qualification applications

University Alliance’s report into universities’ role in stimulating economic growth is worth a read but a second attempt at driving PQA is already losing steam, says Aaron Porter

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/2011/sep/22/first-fail-university-alliance-pqa

signs of spring

UA’s report sets out an agenda for stimulating growth in economy through higher education
Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Heading for a first … University Alliance

Higher education is infamous for producing reports that, while very worthy, end up only acting as doorstops or decoration on a bookshelf. So when a report is produced of real value and of important contemporary relevance to the key debate in politics right now – how to stimulate economic growth – it should be celebrated. This week, the publication of the University Alliance report, Growing the future: universities leading, changing and creating the regional economy was a welcome contribution to both the higher education and economic debates being had right now.

Unashamedly, the report set out the role which universities already do, and need to continue to play in contributing to the regional economy. At a time when the coalition is obsessed with deficit reduction, which is unquestionably choking off growth, it has never been more important for universities to demonstrate their value in helping to stimulate growth. In the immediate term, they are a vital source for jobs and an important link with local businesses; in the medium term their research and knowledge transfer will equip the future workforce with the skills required to ensure the UK can remain internationally competitive.

With contributions from leading figures in higher education, industry, politics and even a chapter from the chancellor of Huddersfield University, Sir Patrick Stewart, the report is well worth reading. Hopefully the kind words in the foreword from Vince Cable will translate into real support and crucially adequate funding for universities from government to be able to deliver on the promise they undoubtedly have.

Heading for a fail … post-qualification applications

The pros and cons of a post-qualification application system have long been debated within higher education. Bill Rammell, during his time as higher education minister put forward the idea for consideration, but a mixture of resistance from the sector and political timing meant it wasn’t realised.

So when the idea of moving A-level results forward and the university application process back was re-introduced by the coalition in the higher education white paper it was met with a mixed reaction once again. Instinctively, I continue to be drawn to the idea. Surely it makes more sense for university places to be awarded on the basis of your actual results, rather than on prediction. And while I accept that this may mean some shifting around of the school exam timetable and the university application process, it seems a price worth paying.

However, this week the Russell Group started to go public with their criticism of the idea, claiming that it’s not clear how the benefits outweigh the disadvantages and raising concerns that a PQA system could hamper their efforts to recruit disadvantaged students. A public statement like this means the Russell Group will be lobbying behind the scenes to see the idea thrown out by the time the white paper comes back from parliamentary scrutiny.

I still wait to be ultimately convinced by the arguments on either side, but I can’t help remain uncomfortable with an admissions system that relies so heavily on predictions, rather than a genuine attempt to measure attainment and more crucially potential.